Newspaper, congressmen, fight back
A Department of Justice attorney tried to stop a Daily Iberian reporter from recording a public meeting or quoting her.
Jeff Zeringue, managing editor of The Daily Iberian, filed a complaint with the Department of Justice on June 15, in response.
As of 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Zeringue had not heard back.
Louisiana’s Rep. Jeff Landry and Sen. David Vitter joined Zeringue’s battle by sending letters to Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“I came to Washington to fight for an open, accountable, and transparent government,” Landry wrote, reported the Associated Press. ”I find it wholly unacceptable that our government, specifically the DOJ, has not responded to Mr. Zeringue’s complaint.”
However, Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre, said the attorney never tried to prevent publication of or change the news story.
Upon entering the meeting in New Iberia on June 12, Department of Justice attorney Rachel Hranitzky asked if any reporters were present, according to The Daily Iberian. Iberian reporter Matthew Beaton identified himself.
Hranitzky, a senior trial attorney in the department’s Civil Rights Division, said – according to policy—the reporter could remain in the meeting and quote other people who spoke, but could not tape the meeting or quote her.
The events of June 12 appear to be a violation of the reporter’s civil rights, as well as a violation of the public trust. Left unchallenged could give the department the feeling of reigning over it citizens, not defending them.”
– Jeff Zeringue, managing editor, The Daily Iberian
Beaton protested. Because it was a public meeting he should be allowed to quote anyone speaking, he said. Eventually Hranitzky threatened to throw the reporter out of the meeting.
She warned Beaton about getting on the department’s “bad side,” Beaton reported.
After Beaton and others in the meeting protested, Hranitzky relented and allowed Beaton to stay in the meeting.
The Daily Iberian filed a complaint with Thomas E. Perez, the U.S. Assistant Attorney General over the department’s Civil Rights Division , on June 15, according to Zeringue.
“The events of June 12 appear to be a violation of the reporter’s civil rights, as well as a violation of the public trust. Left unchallenged could give the department the feeling of reigning over it citizens, not defending them,”Zeringue said in his editorial.
The Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press also sent a letter to Perez.
“We are gravely concerned over any internal practice or policy preventing journalists from recording or quoting statements made by DOJ officials in public meetings,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of Reporter’s Committee For Freedom of the Press, according to The Daily Iberian.
Editor’s Note – The Associated Press story cited above was published by The Huffington Post on July 12.
Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email – firstname.lastname@example.org – or on twitter – @whitevs7
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